A new study on the differential earning power of male and female movie stars beings with a quote from Jennifer Jason Leigh:
It’s the nature of the business. People equate success with youth (source).
She’s half right. Irene Pater and her co-authors looked at the pay of 265 actors and actresses who appeared in Hollywood films from 1968 to 2008. They found that the average earnings of actors rises until the age of 51 and remains stable after that. The average earnings of actresses, in contrast, peaks at 34 and decreases “rapidly thereafter.”
There is still a discrepancy in earning power between men and women in Hollywood. And it becomes doubly unfair when you think of our earning potential in terms of years. Actresses are like football players. They have a small window of prime earning ability (source).
So, is this sexism or just “market forces”? That is, is female acting work devalued compared to men’s because people in positions of power don’t value women? Or is it because casting women over 34 decreases box office returns, whereas casting older men does not? Pater and her colleagues suggest that it’s sexism. One study, they explain,
…actually examined the combined effect of gender and age on box office performance [and] revealed that casting a female lead older than 32 years of age does not influence a movie’s box office performance, whereas casting a male lead older than 42 decreases box office revenues by almost 17% (source).
So the presence of male actors in their forties and over decreases box office revenue, but they still get paid more than women of the same age. In contrast, casting women in their mid-thirties and over doesn’t bring down profits, but she’s still less valuable in the eyes of producers. Sexism sounds like a plausible explanation to me.
We have an ever-growing collection of ways in which men are frequently positioned as people and women as women. We’re always on the lookout for new examples and sociologist Nathan Palmer recently highlighted a nice observation about how this happens in language.
He asked readers to consider a quote from a textbook (not to single Conley out, he’s using standard language and I use it as well in my own textbook). Here’s the quote with the relevant part in bright white:
Applying an insight by sociologist Michael Kimmel, Palmer then updated the slide with slightly different language:
If a dollar is the amount by which all other wages should be compared, then the first sentence centers men’s experiences and positions women as a deviation from that. The second sentence switches that around.
By switching the referent, this change in language shifts the center of the discussion from women’s disadvantage to men’s advantage. Of course, there is both unfair disadvantage and advantage in this story, and we need to make both visible, but always talking in terms of the former makes women and their disadvantage the problem and hides the way that we need to be addressing men’s unfair advantage as well.
A new submission inspires me to re-post this great collection of public resistance to advertisements that objectify women.
Adding commentary to the ubiquitous images that surround us can help us to notice, even if just temporarily, that our environment is toxic to our ability to think of all people as full and complete humans. Here are some inspiring examples.
1. An unknown artist pastes the photoshop toolbar on H&M posters in Germany (thanks Dmitriy T.C. and Alison M.):
2. Toban B. (a prolific SocImages contributor, by the way) sent us a set of photographs. These were snapped in Seattle, Washington by Jonathan McIntosh:
3. Commentary on a Special K. ad in Dublin, sent in by Tara C. (Broadsheet):
Hey there Special-K Lady.
I know you think I should diet
So I can be slim just like you.
thing is, I think I look pretty fabulous
Just the way I am
Also, Special-K tastes like cardboard
so piss off
4. This one was written on by a teenage girl in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. It reads: “I’m sick of sexually tinted images.”
5. Tricia V. sent us an example of this kind of resistance in Haiti. The billboard below is in for a brand of beer called Prestige. Tricia writes: “The writing [along the bottom of] the billboard says “Ko O+ pa machandiz” which translates as ‘Women’s bodies are not merchandise.’” She was impressed at the effort exerted to climb up and write across a full-sized billboard.
6. Ang B. snapped this photo in Madison, Wisconsin:
[I]t can’t be denied that the female ideal in America is nonaggressive and nonthreatening, to the point of caricature. Take for example the film personality of the much-idolized Marilyn Monroe: docile, accommodating, brainless, defenseless, totally uncentered, incapable of taking up for herself or knowing what she wants or needs. A sexual encounter with such a woman in real life would border on rape – the idea of “consenting adults” wouldn’t even apply. The term “perversion” seems more appropriate for this kind of yearning than for homosexuality or bestiality, since it isn’t directed toward a complete being. The Marilyn Monroe image was the ideal sex object for the sexually crippled and anxious male: a bland erotic pudding that would never upset his delicate stomach.
It’s important to realize that this Playboy ideal is a sign of low, rather than high, sexual energy. It suggests that the sexual flame is so faint and wavering that a whole person would overwhelm and extinguish it. Only a vapid, compliant ninny-fantasy can keep it alive. It’s designed for men who don’t really like sex but need it for tension-release – men whose libido is wrapped up in achievement or dreams of glory.
Slater wrote this passage in 1970, hence the reference to Marilyn Monroe. I would have to think hard about whether I think it still applies broadly, but I think it’s fair to say that the “bland erotic pudding” is still part of the repertoire of essentially every female celebrity who is successful in part because of her appearance. I did a search for some of the most high-profile female actresses and singers today, looking specifically for images that might fit Slater’s description. I invite your thoughts.
Let’s watch and see what issues this K-Y lube campaign raises:
You see, it’s funny because the “warming” lube is so effective, the chubby old slob is irresistible to his more put-together wife. Here’s another:
While I think mature men like me can take the hit on our egos, there is another angle to consider here. In an AdWeek post on “Hunkvertising,” my social media friend David Gianatasio interviewed Lisa Wade, about what the trendy treatment of men as sex objects in advertising actually says about women.
Many ad experts and social critics see the whole thing as a harmless turning of the tables following decades of bikini-clad babes in beer commercials. Double entendres abound when dissecting the trend, the overriding feeling being that it can’t be taken all that seriously because, after all, we are just talking about guys here. “We’re all in on the gender-reversal joke,” explains Lisa Wade, associate professor of sociology at Occidental College. “It’s funny to us to think of women being lustful.”
When the lust is treated even more ironically, as with these men who are not exactly Isaiah Mustafa, both the woman’s lust and the man’s sexual desirability are the gag.
As Dr. Wade added in her post about the post she was interviewed for, “the joke affirms the gender order because the humor depends on us knowing that we don’t really objectify men this way and we don’t really believe that women are the way we imagine men to be.”
And here, the men aren’t either. It’s good for a laugh, but over the long term is it good for men and women?
Tom Megginson is a Creative Director at Acart Communications, a Canadian Social Issues Marketing agency. He is a specialist in social marketing, cause marketing, and corporate social responsibility. You can follow Tom at workthatmatters.blogspot.com.
In a comprehensive analysis of young men’s and women’s aspirations to public office, Jennifer Lawless and Richard Fox discover that part of the reason we see so few female politicians is because women just aren’t interested in running. There are lots of reasons for this. A absence of role models, a lack of encouragement from their parents, and the intimidating role that sexist attacks play in media coverage of campaigns.
But Lawless and Fox discovered another interesting correlation, one between political aspiration and sports. More men than women – 74% compared to 41% — played on a college or intramural team and, for both, playing sports was correlated with political aspirations. The figure shows that running for office had “crossed the minds: of 44% of women who played sports and 35% who hadn’t. The numbers for men were 63% and 55% respectively.
The authors suggest that the mediating factor is “an opportunity to develop… a competitive spirit.” Sports, they argue, may build or reinforce the tendency to find pleasure in competition, which may make politics more appealing.
While sports increased both men’s and women’s interest in politics, it had a greater effect for women, shrinking the gender gap in political ambition by half.